From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Peace, Unity and Purity task force gets under way

Date 10 Dec 2001 15:18:55 -0500

Note #6973 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Peace, Unity and Purity task force gets under way

Group forges covenant for its work, opts for consensus decision-making style

by Jerry L. Van Marter

DALLAS - Acutely aware of the importance of its task and the close scrutiny
its work will receive, the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and
Purity of the Church took firm but cautious steps at its first meeting, Dec.
6-8 here.

The 20-person task force - reduced by one due to the resignation for health
reasons of Sue Mallory, an elder at Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Pacific
Presbytery in California - spent much of its first 48 hours together in
prayer, worship and Bible study. Gathered frequently in pairs or groups of
three or four, task force members were clearly intent on getting to know
each other better before even thinking about the issues they will be asked
to try and lead the church through in the next four years.

The group formally adopted a covenant for its work together, agreed to use
consensus decision-making "whenever possible," and set as its main task for
its next meeting "to explore the meaning of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
over all and in our lives."

Task force members also agreed to work between meetings in four sub-groups
that will prepare to lead the group in addressing four broad categories of
issues: scriptural and theological resources; historical and ecclesiastical
resources; practices which are conducive to discernment and
community-building, including models from the mission field; and
consultation and communication with the larger church.

The task force was authorized by the recent 213th General Assembly and
appointed by the current moderator, Jack Rogers, and his two immediate
predecessors, Syngman Rhee and Freda Gardner.

The charge to the task force is "to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in
spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and for the 21st century
... seeking the peace, unity and purity of the church." It is scheduled to
make its final report to the 2005 General Assembly.

The seriousness of the task was immediately apparent, as the three
moderators led an opening-night commissioning service for the task force
which included the laying on of hands and a prayer repeated for each member:
"Defend, O Lord, this your servant with your heavenly grace, that he/she may
continue yours forever and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more
until he/she comes into your everlasting Kingdom."

Rogers likened the task force to "a congregation doing a mission study
before calling a pastor." Their job, he told them, "is to ask who we are and
how we can more serve Jesus Christ with vitality into the 21st century and
how to deal with hindrances.Look for the root causes behind our current
turmoil and look for the resources to guide us out."

In a Dec. 8 Bible study, task force co-moderator the Rev. Gary Demarest - a
West Coast pastor and former director of Presbyterian evangelism on the
PC(USA) national staff - said task force members are "called to be experts
on conflict management, though none of us do it professionally."

Pointing to numerous New Testament passages, Demarest said, "The church has
always been in conflict - that's a given - otherwise we wouldn't have any
letters from Paul. The task, therefore, is not to resolve conflict but to
manage it.

"We need to learn how to celebrate conflict," he said. "God has created us
so differently. It's like a marriage - with all its conflicts, it gets
better as you go."

The danger, Demarest continued, "is that we equate conflict with combat and
demonize those with whom we disagree. The ultimate goal of combat is to
eliminate or destroy. Conflict need not be combat."

Pointing to Philippians 2, Demarest said, "I want to bring to this task
force the mind of Christ - not something I manufacture, but a gift of God."
To do so, he said, "I must not ask, 'What's in it for me?' or 'How can I
win?' but 'How can I help the church become what Christ is going to make it,
with or without me?'"

Referring to the four-year journey stretching out before them, Demarest told
task force members: "As we commit to this journey - reaching out to each
other, remaining true to yourself and to the crucified Christ - I believe we
will find we have already arrived at the place where Christ will establish
the home of God."

The Rev. Steve Yamaguchi of Long Beach, CA, invited by the task force to
lead a Dec. 6 Bible study, likened the journey of the task force to the
faith journeys of Moses and Paul. They were, he said, bicultural leaders
with one foot in each of two different worlds and were called by God to
bridge those two worlds: Moses between the Egyptians and the Hebrews, Paul
between the Romans and the Hebrews.

In a Presbyterian church so conflicted that some talk openly of schism, the
task force is called to be that same kind of bridge, Yamaguchi said. "Many
people in our church - not just those on ideological and theological
divides, but women and racial ethnic Presbyterians - have long felt like
they live in two worlds." Yamaguchi, who vividly described his consternation
as a young boy in Los Angeles when Japanese-American friends and neighbors
were abruptly removed from his neighborhood and sent to internment camps
during World War II, said living in a foreign place - like Moses and Paul
did - "can produce understandings that are not possible for tourists."

Four years on the task force, Yamaguchi said, gives its members the "gift of
grace to appreciate the different worlds inhabited by Presbyterians these
days." He urged task force members to "live in, don't be a tourist."  Such
an attitude will model for the church how to live with differences, he

Task force co-moderator Jenny Stoner, an elder from Craftsbury Common, VT,
who chaired the Assembly Committee that developed the task force
recommendation last summer, said the Assembly "didn't want a committee to
tell the church what the answers are." She said the Assembly - which
authorized the task force by a 91-9 percent margin - "wanted the task force
to develop a process of discernment for itself and for the church, to call
the church to prayer, to connect Presbyterians inside and outside the power
structures of the church so we can come together as Presbyterians to figure
out how we can be the body of Christ."

The task force may not have gotten very far in determining what it will do,
but several members seemed very sure what it shouldn't do. "People have told
me they don't want just another study," said the Rev. Milton (Joe) Coalter,
a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

"There's no great value in another study," agreed the Rev. Jack Haberer,
pastor of Clear Lake Presbyterian Church in Houston. "It's about casting a

The Rev. Elizabeth Achtemeier, a retired professor at Union Theological
Seminary in Richmond, VA, said, "If we start with the issues, the process
hardens and we won't get anywhere. We need to determine the identity that
sets us apart according to the Scriptures."

Victoria Curtiss, co-pastor of Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames, IA,
agreed. "What is God seeking to say to us and do with us? Study itself
doesn't do it. Can modeling trust here be gift we give to the church?"

Through restating the key themes of the PC(USA)'s theological and
constitutional heritage and evaluating both the causes of dissension and
sources of health in the church, the task force can find ways for the church
"to move forward , furthering its peace, unity and purity," said Barbara
Wheeler, president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. "We're
going to move anyway," she said. "Forward would be better."

Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church Covenant

We, the members of the Task Force, covenant together that:

*  We will be in prayer for each other and for our work that we may
faithfully serve God, follow Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and be
guided by the Holy Spirit;

*  We will seek to be guided by Scripture and will regularly study it

*  We will worship whenever we gather, inviting all who are present at our
meetings to worship with us.  With authorization, we will celebrate the
Lord's Supper at each meeting as a sign that the peace, unity and purity we
seek is God's gift to us in Christ;

*  We will speak the truth with love, expressing ourselves with candor and

*  We will listen, endeavoring to understand each other, especially those
whose views seem to differ from our own, maintaining a spirit of openness
and vulnerability;

*  We will carry out our work among this community of believers, respecting
confidences, showing faithfulness in our relationships, and trusting each
other's motivations and dedication;

*  We will model a respectful, loving process of discernment and dialogue,
seeking to reach consensus whenever possible, ever mindful of our
responsibilities to all the members of our beloved Church;

*  We will communicate regularly and effectively with the whole church on
the work of the Task Force in order to include them in the process;

*  We will work in good faith within the open-meeting policy of the General
Assembly and welcome the press and other observers present at our meetings,
as we seek to discover new and challenging ways to lead the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and
for the 21st century.  We trust the press to perform its part of this
responsibility by reporting on our work in accordance with the published
ethical standards of the Associated Church Press and the Evangelical Press

We will each commit our best, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to the task
entrusted to us.
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